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'What’s the number of your room, child?' by Sawsan Khalife

30/08/2015
Attacking and imprisoning Palestinian children has shaped Palestinian generations for decades. The more rights-deprived the childhood, the more hungry for freedom adulthood will be.

 

 

In this video, an Israeli soldier is seen chasing a Palestinian child with a broken arm during the weekly demonstration held in Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. The soldier holds him by the neck and pushes his face into the stones while the boy’s mother and sister, along with other Palestinian demonstrators, try to pull him away from.

It is always painful to see such images, but not surprising. According to the organization Defense for Children International, each year approximately 500 to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing.

While watching the child running from the soldier and crying for help, I wonder whether he knew what would happen to him if he were arrested. I wondered whether the children in the West Bank have a similar “Room Number 4” that the children in East Jerusalem know all too well.

It would be surprising to find a child, or adult, in East Jerusalem who is not familiar with “Room Number 4,” an interrogation room in the main police station in Jerusalem in Russian Compound, where Palestinian residents, including children, are investigated.

While hundreds of children are arrested annually, the conditions they undergo during their arrest and investigation is by far the most severe violation, according both to Israeli and international law.

The name of the room comes from the Israeli investigators who ask the child, while being arrested and investigated,  ”Do you know why we call this room ‘Room Number 4?’”

“It’s because when we are done with you Arabs you will crawl on all fours out of this room, like babies.”

A campaign entitled “Room number 4” started almost two years ago, aiming to raise awareness of child abuse at the hands of Israeli police forces in East Jerusalem. They give a platform to many testimonies of Palestinian children, as well as reports from the Madaa Center in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

The Madaa Center reports shocking revelations related to “the impact of child arrest and detention,” through interviews with children from Silwan aged 7-17.

According to the report, 63 percent of the children are denied food, water and access to the restroom during interrogation.

“I was thirsty and hungry. When I asked to go to the toilet they told me to pee in my jeans,” said one 8 year-old child.

Eight-three percent of the children are subject to verbal abuse. The interrogators insult them or their mothers and sisters, or they curse the Prophet Mohammed.

Night arrests are common, with 39 percent of the children arrested between 4:00 – 5:00 am, despite the law which permits arrests only after 7 am.

One mother, of a 14-year-old boy, recalls, “Around 4:30 in the morning we woke up to the sound of knocking and kicking on the door of our house. When we opened, the special forces unit came in and asked for my son. They grabbed him and tried to take him outside. As they left the house I saw them handcuffing his hands and feet.”

Fifty-five percent of the children are tied by both hands and legs. Fourteen percent have their heads covered.

“They left me in the room for five hours with my hands tied behind my back and legs tied to each other. When I refused to confess they slapped me and tighten my hand ties more and more,” said a 15-year-old child.

Forty-eight percent of the children are transferred to house arrest, some of them for an unlimited period of time, and most are not permitted to attend school.

“I would rather be in jail than in house arrest so I won’t look out the window and see my friends playing while I cannot,” said a 14-year-old after 10 months of house arrest.

Seventy-seven percent of the children are physically abused, including being punched at the time of arrest or during the interrogations.  Twenty-seven percent of them need long term medical care.

Eighty-three percent of the children do not understand the documents they sign in Hebrew.

“The policeman told me to sign, then they used my fingerprint to sign. I don’t know how to read Hebrew,” said a 13-year-old child.

Forty-two percent of the children drop out of school after their arrest.

“My child was a good student,” said one mother. “I was dreaming that he would become a doctor or an engineer… But now he is in prison and I don’t know what his future will be”.

Not one single child interviewed by Madaa was allowed to receive a visit from family members or to make a phone call while in detention. In addition, 90 percent undergo an initial investigation without the presence of their parents.

Thirteen percent of the children are subjected to full body searches.

“They wanted me to undress and search me. I refused. They pressed an electric taser against my body several times till I gave up and took off my cloths,” said a 16 year-old.

At the resumption of the interrogation, thirteen percent of children are asked by the investigators to become collaborators in order to pass on information to the police. They are offered benefits and favors in return, including the promise that all charges be dropped.

“A man stopped me in the street, gave me 200 shekels and asked me to tell him the names of the kids who throw stones,” said an 11 year-old.

What is the number of your room, child?

Even though Room Number 4 is reserved for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the child in the video must have in mind another room that drove him to run for his life. And I wonder if it has the same creativity of being named after the famous “crawling on all fours.”

I was surprised that the soldier felt the need to cover his face.  He shouldn’t fear being exposed, as he won’t be charged with anything. He has the support of the majority of the citizens of Israel, justifying the occupation, as well as some even obliged by law to take part in it.

An armed soldier running after an injured child who is crying for help — isn’t the IDF the “most moral army in the world”?

Well, not quite. The IDF imposes a shameful occupation that misleads some to take part in and make themselves less human. No one expects the Israeli government to have any interest in the rights of Palestinians, but if it had truly the interest of its young Israelis in mind it would simply stop turning these young soldiers to inhumane individuals and end the occupation.

Sawsan Khalife, 29 augustus 2015 in +972mag

Sawsan Khalife is an independent journalist.

 


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